Fur Coats Get Under Readers’ Skins

Shame on you, JCK! I thought we had moved beyond glamorizing animal furs as a luxury item! Your “Fall Fashion Forecast” (August 1998, p. 70) sounded like a promotional article from the American fur industry. Author Hedda Schupak describes a photo of a fur-trimmed coat as “spelling luxury” – really, how about “spelling offensive”? Killing animals and using their skins for the sake of vanity is not accepted by educated consumers today.

Marla Andrews Plum Island Silver Co. West Newbury, Mass.

Editor’s Note: JCK received numerous letters protesting our August cover showing a model wearing fur; this is just one example. We chose the cover photo because fur is an important part of fall fashion news, and we would have been remiss if we didn’t emphasize it in our article. We do, however, apologize to any readers we inadvertently offended. It wasn’t our intention to take sides in a controversy or make a political statement of any kind.

Jewelers Are Ill-Prepared for Retirement

As both a member of a family-owned gem business and a registered investment adviser, I found your article on retirement (August 1998, p. 136) touched on the misconceptions of retirement planning while, in some ways, offering a scenario much rosier than may exist.

The respondents’ lack of planning typifies that of the public in general, perhaps the jewelry trade in particular. In a recent study, 75% of those asked had no idea of how much money they would need in later years; thus, it’s not surprising that a “magic number” of $1 million was most often cited (it certainly sounds like a lot, but is it really enough?).

Overall, the following portrait of jewelers is painted: They’re putting away an unspecified amount of money for uncalculated retirement needs. Meanwhile, they will rely on the future value of a cyclical business (i.e., sell the inventory) to fund those needs, since they don’t expect to hand over the reins to their children. Little wonder most expect to “go on working till they drop” – they may have no choice. Denial, combined with fond memories of the hyper-inflation of the 1970s, produce this naïve optimism.

One misleading result of your survey was that 88% report saving for retirement. I’d suggest you broaden your population to include the wholesale trade, including gem dealers. Most of my clients are in this category, often foreign-born and relatively inexperienced in personal finance. The results then would likely show an even more “disturbing trend” than the one you found: that a significant portion of the trade may not be planning for the future at all but instead is relying almost exclusively on a single asset-class. This is an extraordinary risk.

Michael R. Dymant President, T.E.A.M. Corp. Easttrade Asset Management Corp. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.

Boiling Mad About Advice

I have subscribed to your magazine for 20 years and am usually impressed with its articles. But “Teaching Customers About Proper Gem Care” (September 1998, p. 150) is one of the most dangerously misleading articles I’ve ever read. I would fire any employee I heard tell a customer to boil a piece of jewelry with any stone in it.

The first thing the customer will do is go home, throw the piece in a pot with half an inch of water, turn up the heat to boil, and get distracted by the baby crying or the phone ringing. She’ll expose the piece to an incredibly high temperature with no water on it. Then she’ll throw it into cold water to cool it off. Then the customer will show up in the store with a broken stone. What’s worse is when a customer throws someone else’s jewelry into boiling water and it turns out that the diamond was fracture filled, or that the “ruby” was dyed.

Any aggressive cleaning should be done only in a jewelry store by trained professionals. If a customer wants to clean stones at home, she should use a soft toothbrush with liquid soap, ammonia (optional), and water. If she wants her stones looking like new, she should come back to you to have the cleaning done properly and safely. This is something jewelers should be encouraging anyway, since it gets customers back into the store and offers another chance to sell them something.

Daniel R. Spirer, G.G. Spirer Somes Jewelers Cambridge, Mass.

The author responds: During interviews with jewelers, I found that some shared these concerns. However, I have been giving this advice to customers for more than 17 years without a single incident. Only a few gems were listed as safe in the article, and a strainer was recommended to keep direct heat off the gems. Boiling water will not affect a fracture-filled diamond. When in doubt, do not boil. – Richard Drucker